Lupus is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system recognizes areas such as joints and skin as foriegn, and in response attacks the healthy tissue. This causes inflammation of different parts of the body. The most common form of lupus seen is called Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). According to the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA), “Around 1.5 million people in the United States are living with lupus.” Although lupus can be seen in men, 90% of patients are women which can be tied to estrogen levels. Lupus is typically diagnosed around the reproductive age suggesting that hormones such as estrogen are a cause. Genetics and race also are involved in chances of having lupus, however there has been no confirmation as to why this is. Lupus affects multiple different organs, as well as having a wide variety of symptoms some of which include headaches, painful or swollen joints, anemia, and raynaud’s.
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Lupus has many outer appearance symptoms, however some of the more dangerous parts of Lupus are internal. Lupus has been found to attack vital organs such as the heart, kidneys and liver. People living with lupus are at a higher risk of developing heart disease due to the inflammation of blood vessels. According to Johns Hopkins Lupus Center, “cardiovascular disease, not lupus itself, is the number one cause of death in people with SLE.” Arteries in the body can also become inflamed and eventually burst due to lupus. In certain tissues, this is not a big deal. In the skin it will just appear as discoloration, however if an artery bursts in a more important tissue such as brain tissue, it could potentially be life threatening. Along with heart disease and inflamed arteries, many patients with lupus suffer from symptoms caused by failing kidneys. Lupus Nephritis is swelling in the kidneys, leading to difficulty urinating, and therefore causing edema due to water retention. Symptoms of Lupus Nephritis are bloody urine, protein in urine, edema, and high blood pressure. This can be treated with steroids, and in severe cases if the kidney fails, the patient will be treated with dialysis or a transplant.
Raynaud's Disease also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon is a condition commonly seen with lupus. It is also more common in women, and affects the blood vessels in the fingers and toes, making them numb in response to low temperatures or in some cases high stress. The blood vessels and smaller arteries become more narrow and when this happens, blood cannot reach the surface of the skin causing the fingers or toes to become purple, and in many cases the affected area will become white. As blood slowly returns there are painful sores and redness on the affected area.
Diagnosing lupus is a long process as there are no tests that specifically pinpoint this disease. Different blood tests can be taken during the process of diagnosing, and as stated by Johns Hopkins Lupus Center, “these blood tests are not conclusive by themselves but combining the tests with certain physical findings can help to corroborate a diagnosis.” The Anti-Nuclear Antibody (ANA) test is the most common as almost all patients diagnosed with lupus have a positive test result. A serum from the blood sample is placed onto a slide with tissue from a rodent liver or kidney. If the serum attaches to the tissue cells the blood has antinuclear antibodies. A cell with a fluorescent dye is added to the group of binded cells. When looked at through a fluorescence microscope where it is marked as positive if fluorescent cells are observed. People without lupus have tested positive for ANA and therefore it can not be used as the only method of diagnosis.
Treatment for SLE mainly consists of different steroids and Immunosuppressive drugs. Most medications are over-the-counter, such as tylenol and aspirin. Both medications are anti-inflammatory, as well as blood thinners. Corticosteroids and Prednisone are common prescription medications that will provide stronger anti-inflammatories as well as help to regulate blood pressure. Long term use can lead to risk of infection however they have been helpful in treating many patients with lupus. Immunosuppressives such as Cyclophosphamide and Methotrexate are prescription medications are to help control inflammation and the immune system.
- “How Lupus Affects Multiple Organs.” Hospital for Special Surgery, www.hss.edu/conditions_many-faces-lupus-organ-involvement-SLE.asp.
- “How Lupus Affects the Body.” Johns Hopkins Lupus Center, www.hopkinslupus.org/lupus-info/lupus-affects-body/.
- “Lupus Blood Tests.” Johns Hopkins Lupus Center, www.hopkinslupus.org/lupus-tests/lupus-blood-tests/.
- “Lupus and Kidney Disease (Lupus Nephritis).” National Kidney Foundation, 11 June 2019, www.kidney.org/atoz/content/lupus.
- Maidhof, William, and Olga Hilas. “Lupus: an Overview of the Disease and Management Options.” P & T : a Peer-Reviewed Journal for Formulary Management, MediMedia USA, Inc., Apr. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3351863/.
- “Medications Used to Treat Lupus.” Lupus Foundation of America, www.lupus.org/resources/medications-used-to-treat-lupus.
- “Raynaud's Disease | Raynaud's Syndrome.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 11 Feb. 2020, medlineplus.gov/raynaudsdisease.html.
- “What Is Lupus?” Lupus Foundation of America, www.lupus.org/resources/what-is-lupus
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